High Def for H.D.'s North American Manager's Meeting

Home Depot did not grow to be the world's largest home improvement retailer and second largest retailer in the United States by settling for mediocrity. So, when Home Depot's Chairman and CEO Bob Nardelli met with executives from Hartmann Studios--a full service experiential design and production studio--to discuss its upcoming 2005 Annual Store Managers Meeting, it came as no surprise that he wanted a straightforward presentation with the best audio and video delivery systems available.

"To deliver the best show possible, we knew it had to be high definition," says Scott Lowry, executive producer at Hartmann Studios. "Although most of our content was in high definition format, we needed to have the flexibility to incorporate standard definition formats, as well. That said, we couldn't settle for up- or down-converting sources to achieve a consistent appearance. It alters aspect ratios and sacrifices quality--a move we weren't willing to make."

With the venue set--Dallas Convention Center arena--Hartmann's staff began brainstorming and planning. After sifting through RFPs and meeting with company representatives, they enlisted the help of LMG, Inc., the Orlando-based national provider of video, audio, lighting, staging and presentation support. LMG's recent creation of the world's first multi-format high definition truck-in-a-box--dubbed HD-1--was "the visual presentation solution we were looking for," explains Scott.

HD-1 is custom designed and built around the Snell & Wilcox Kahuna switcher. It enables technicians to intermix high definition and standard definition sources within the same switching system. Rack layouts are designed for ease of use for operators and installation. To complement the switcher, all of the presentation equipment, from projectors to cameras, can run at any resolution.

Designing the Show
To showcase the event's speakers and six different themed interstitials shot by Hartmann Studios, a deliberate design decision was made to incorporate bare minimum scenery and let the video and speakers carry the show. The three-screen configuration of two 18-foot x 32-foot outboard screens with double-stacked HD projectors, and a 22.5-foot x 40-foot center screen with triple stacked HD projectors, was an optimal set-up for maximum luminence. The projectors, Digital Projection's Lightning 35 HD, were HD native, and used the digital cinema DLP chip. In addition, the arena was cut in half to create an amphitheater environment, which enabled all audience members to equally experience the presentations and the screens.

@copy:Although the equipment accepts any format, all of Hartmann's video was shot in HD 720p and converted to 1080i. It was converted to accommodate any last-minute client changes by cutting down on render time.

"Before choosing to work with LMG, we were hesitant about the limitations of a Montage-type presentation environment," explains Karim Kassab, Technical Producer with Hartmann Studios. "But, with LMG's Kahuna and Stewart seamless screens all 16:9 aspect ratio, the equipment didn't hold us back at all. We used all native 16:9 images with no widescreen so there was no blending on the show. We were able to design and deliver exactly what we envisioned without any setbacks."

Event Logistics
And envision they did. After months of meticulous planning and drawing up 70-plus storyboards, the crew set off for LMG's headquarters in Orlando, Florida, to bring those storyboards to life with HD-1. Staff worked together and ran through the entire show with the complete engineering package that was presented a week later in Dallas to more than 2,400 Home Depot managers from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

"The beauty of the HD-1 system is that what used to be a challenge--mixing both standard definition and high definition--isn't one any more. By accepting all formats, it solves a lot on its own and allows you to focus on other aspects of the show," says Scott.

The first day of the event was mainly presenter and speaker support, accomplished using four graphics machines, two primary and two backup, that were running DVI out and converting to HD-SDI. During walk-in there were multi-screen rolls, coordinated using Dataton to start and stop time-locked modules, played back by multiple HD Qubits. The playback formats used during the event were HD Cam, digi beta, betacam SP, DV Cam.

Day Two started with a panel question-and-answer session with Home Depot's chairman, as well as a guest speaker. Because of the quick editing ability and the camera equipment (jib, a hand-held and two long lenses with image stabilization--Grass Valley's new WorldCam cameras, capable of 1080p, 1080i, and 720p), the video direction by Jim Borress, video director for Hartmann, was cut like a television show with sweeps and audience reactions projected on the big screen for all to see.

Throughout the meeting, 11 record decks recorded in four different formats, ranging from beta SP to DVD, which enabled the producers to walk away with tape formats that can be used in different markets applications.

With high definition IMAG broadcast of the speakers and panels on all three screens, Home Depot managers didn't miss anything. "We've done a lot of HD videos but HD IMAG was phenomenal," explains Karim. "You can see every minute detail."

In order to deliver the best show possible, stage manager Todd Hall with Hartmann had a monitor that displayed up to 24 different sources on a 37-inch LCD, at the front of house. This display enabled him to see exactly what the HD-1 operator could see, which helped with the overall coordination of the show.

"Our technology allows us to deliver the highest quality image regardless of format," explains Les Goldberg, CEO of LMG. "It's an amazing experience to be able to deliver an HD theater experience to thousands of people at the same time in a meeting setting."